Tuesday, January 26, 2021

"Ascendant" Christianity?

Recently, the New York Times published an article singing the praises of President Biden's Catholicism, saying that he is "perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century." The mention how his life has been "steeped in Christian rituals and practices" and talk about how his Catholicism directs his life and his policies. They cheer about how his faith doesn't focus on all the divisive aspects of Christianity like abortion and sexuality, but instead focuses on climate change and racial equity. They hold him up as a bastion of what truly tolerant, liberal Christianity should look like--someone who doesn't do the bidding of the horrible Conservative Christians who have been in power for way too long. Like so many are so quick to do, they praised liberal Christianity for being quick to unite in love and quick to ignore all those "hateful" aspects of the Bible that point out sin. One of the things the writer of the article seemed most proud of was that "There is a sense of moral synergy on the left, among not only progressive Christians but also humanists, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and the spectrum of faith traditions."

Just as a reminder, when Justice Amy Coney Barrett was facing her confirmation hearing for the Federal Circuit Court in 2017, Senator Feinstein told her, "“The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that people have fought for years in this country." The same people who are praising Biden's Catholic faith were attacking Barrett for hers.

The argument, however, is that Biden's religion is different. They say he embraces a new version of Christianity, "a Christian moral vision that makes room for a pluralistic society." To a follower of Christ, nothing should tell you to run away quicker than someone talking about changing theology. That, however, is exactly what is being lauded in this article.

The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), but it doesn't change. Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." As followers of Christ, we don't change His teachings in order to make them fit with society today. In fact, Christians who find themselves in agreement with the world should take the time to truly examine their beliefs. James 4:4 puts it pretty bluntly: "Don’t you know that making friends with this corrupt world order is open aggression toward God? So anyone who aligns with this bogus world system is declaring war against the one true God." A true follower of Christ isn't going to fit in with the world. Jesus Himself said, "If you find that the world despises you, remember that before it despised you, it first despised Me. If you were a product of the world order, then it would love you. But you are not a product of the world because I have taken you out of it, and it despises you for that very reason." (John 15:18-19)

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Too often, people confuse religion and faith. Christian religion is one thing. It is full of rituals and observances. It is on display in mega churches who fill their buildings with laser shows and giant productions. It is posted all over social media with things like #blessed and people using the name of Jesus to promote social justice. It is made evident in the "name it and claim it" mentality that turns God into some kind of cosmic genie there to fulfill wishes.

 


It's that kind of religion that I believe God had in mind when He told Israel,
"I hate—I totally reject—your religious ceremonies
        and have nothing to do with your solemn gatherings.
You can offer Me whole burnt offerings and grain offerings,

        but I will not accept them.
    You can sacrifice your finest, fattest young animals as a peace offering,
        but I will not even look up.
And stop making that music for Me—it’s just noise.

        I will not listen to the melodies you play on the harp." (Amos 5:21-23)

God obviously isn't a big fan of religion. He isn't fooled by the pomp and circumstance. He doesn't revel in the lights and get fooled by fancy words. He doesn't care how "devout" we appear to the world. In fact, when Jesus walked the earth His harshest words were reserved for those considered by society to be the most devout--the Pharisees and Sadducees.

 In the eyes of God, it doesn't matter how devoted I am to a belief if that belief is false. And God's word is very clear on what is considered a false belief: anything that goes against the gospel of the perfect Son of God made flesh, then sacrificed on the cross for our sins and raised again to give us eternal life if we believe He is the only way, truth, and life. No matter who is preaching it or where they are preaching from, anything that says differently is false.

Christianity doesn't leave room for other beliefs. By very definition, it can't--as followers of Christ we are called to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them what Jesus taught, and showing them how to follow His commands (Matthew 28:18-20). Our faith isn't one of concessions and caveats, solely a "moral vision that makes room for a pluralistic society." If I truly believe that Jesus meant it when He said He was the only way to the Father, the only truth, the only source of life, then it makes me incredibly unloving to tell people it's okay if they don't believe in Him.

How horrible would it be to know the only way out of a burning building, but sit back and tell people that they can go whichever direction they want? How much worse is it, then, to know the only way to eternal life, yet let people believe whatever they want?

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/23/us/biden-catholic-christian.html
  2. https://vancouversun.com/news/staff-blogs/liberal-christianity-ten-things-worth-knowing-about-this-third-way/
  3. https://www.gotquestions.org/liberal-Christian-theology.html
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_Christianity

Thursday, January 21, 2021

defend the faith

I've been a bit quiet here lately. I think that's partly because I don't much enjoy being a voice of doom and gloom, and partly because to be quite honest, in the current political climate I'm afraid of the possible consequences of being outspoken.

"Political" probably isn't the right word, though. The issues we are facing right now aren't political, but spiritual. And it's for that reason and that reason alone that I have to put aside my fears and pray that God will give me the words I need, just like Jesus promised His disciples when He sent them out into the world.

We read from Jude at church on Sunday, and I've been pulled back to it over and over again since then. So much of what Jude wrote then is so fitting for today. He wrote to all those called by God the Father, starting by saying that he wanted to write to them about the amazing salvation they all shared. He doesn't say it, but I think that means he was wanting to focus on the beautiful aspects of salvation. It's kind of like what I would like to write about here--the amazing, unfathomable richness of God's love and mercy for us, His unending grace poured out over us, and our undeserved adoption into His kingdom.

Instead, like Jude, I feel like I instead need to share a warning. We are in a time when we are going to be called to be defenders of the faith. In Jude's words:

"I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. [...] But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction." v. 4 & 10

That is the case in American churches today. We have people who stand behind the pulpit and say that sin isn't an issue, that God just wants us to have "health, wealth, and happiness" and that we don't actually have to live according to His commands. They preach a gospel that includes all the happy parts like eternal life and forgiveness but leaves out the hard parts-- like repentance and correction and hating sin.

While it is true that God will forgive all our sins, the forgiveness of sins requires repentance. That doesn't mean just saying I'm sorry. Biblical repentance means turning away from the sin, not living in the middle of it and saying, "Oh well, God will forgive me so it doesn't really matter what I do."

As followers of Christ, we are so often told that we shouldn't be so judgmental. There's a sign I drive by that says, "Love everybody. I'll straighten them out later. ~Jesus" We are reminded time and time again that Jesus didn't stone the woman caught in adultery. That story--which conveniently leaves out the fact that Jesus told the woman to "go and sin no more"--is used to tell us that we shouldn't tell anyone that anything they are doing is wrong. If we are truly loving, we're told, then we should stop telling people that they are living in sin. We shouldn't judge people--we should just accept them for who they are.

There's a little bit of truth in that. That's the tricky thing Satan does--he puts enough truth in his lies to make them seem believable. It's true that there isn't any sin that should exclude someone from coming to Christ. As His followers, there shouldn't be some group of people we think aren't worthy of the good news that Christ died to take the punishment of their sins.

Once someone has become a follower of Christ, however, they are called to something different, something higher. We are called to be constantly becoming more like Christ, which means turning away from anything sinful. As fellow travelers on the narrow road, we are also called to hold each other to that higher standard. In Jude's words, 

"Keep being kind to those who waver in this faithPursue those who are singed by the flames of God’s wrath, and bring them safely to Him. Show mercy to others with fear, despising every garment soiled by the weakness of human flesh." (v. 22-23) 

Or as his brother James said, "Brothers and sisters, if someone you know loses his way and rebels against God, pursue him in love and bring him back to the truth." (James 5:19)

Or as Paul wrote to the Galatians: "My spiritual brothers and sisters, if one of our faithful has fallen into a trap and is snared by sin, don’t stand idle and watch his demise. Gently restore him, being careful not to step into your own snare. Shoulder each other’s burdens, and then you will live as the law of the Anointed teaches us. Don’t take this opportunity to think you are better than those who slip because you aren’t; then you become the fool and deceive even yourself. Examine your own works so that if you are proud, it will be because of your own accomplishments and not someone else’s. Each person has his or her own burden to bear and story to write." (Galatians 6:1-5)

We are often reminded that we shouldn't expect those who are not followers of Christ to operate according to God's standards. As such, when they are lost in sin we shouldn't be surprised. All of that changes, however, once someone comes to Christ. Then we are supposed to reach out to our brothers and sisters and help pull them up out of the trap of sin, keeping in mind that we may need them to do the same for us one day. We are to speak the truth in love, not "love" people so much that we hide the truth from them. Because the real truth is, if you let someone continue to do something that is hurting them, you don't truly love them.

As a nation, especially as one that once claimed to be Christian, we have bought into that lie. We have decided that God's word is hopelessly outdated, so we need to take it on ourselves to figure out what He actually meant. We do that by convincing ourselves that the Scriptures are nothing more than a collection of writing by fallible men, so that means they are open to interpretation.

God in His ultimate wisdom, though, knew our hearts from the beginning. He knew we would be tempted to pick and choose which verses to follow based on the idea that we live in a "different time" (though when I read the Bible, I really don't think our time is all that different...) and therefore need to examine His words through the lens of our current understanding. That's why we have verses like the ones found in Paul's letter to Timothy:

"But as for the wicked and the imposters, they will keep leading and following each other further and further away from the truth. So surely you ought to stick to what you know is certain. All you have learned comes from people you know and trust because since childhood you have known the holy Scriptures, which enable you to be wise and lead to salvation through faith in Jesus the Anointed. All of Scripture is God-breathed; in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right so that God’s people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work." (2 Timothy 13-17)

So test everything you're hearing, whether it's from a friend, parent, spouse, or pastor. Anything that goes against the word of God is wrong, no matter who is saying it. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Do we really want justice?

The United States is headed down a very dark and dangerous path. It's nothing new--we've been moving that direction for decades--but it sure seems like we've gone into free fall with the things that are going on right now.

Though many would have us believe otherwise, the United States was founded as a nation whose goal was to please God. This was a country established on a declared dependence on God the Creator and on the idea that our rights are not dependent on something being granted by an earthly government, but instead they are granted solely by the One who created us. The Declaration of Independence states clearly that our pledge to each other is made possible only by "a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence."

Let me be clear here--I fully believe that Israel is God's chosen nation. I don't pretend that the United States has taken that place; God made a promise to bless Abraham, and His promises are never broken.

However, I also fully believe that when we as a nation declared ourselves to be a nation relying on God's protection, we made ourselves representatives of Him. As such, we are called to uphold certain standards--and we have fallen woefully short of them for far too long.

God is merciful and slow to anger. To put it bluntly, He puts up with a whole lot of stuff before He takes action. At the same time, though, we are told time and time again that He disciplines His children. When we invoked His name in the founding of our country, I believe we entered into a covenant.

And we haven't upheld our end of the deal.

The thing is, God always upholds His end. And part of entering into a covenant with God is dealing with the consequences that come as a result of of our failures... and if recent and current events tell you nothing else, they should tell you that we have a whole lot of failures.

I've seen a couple of verses from Amos quoted lately:

"Search for good and not for evil
    so that you may live;
That way the Eternal God, the Commander of heavenly armies,
    will be at your side,

    as you yourselves have even said.
Hate what is evil, and love all that is good;

    apply His laws justly in the courts at the city gates,
And it may be that the Eternal God, the Commander of heavenly armies,
    will have mercy on those descendants of Joseph who survived."
~Amos 5:14-15

Any time I see a verse quoted, it makes me go and read it in context. All too often we see verses quoted that seem to say one thing but actually have a significantly different meaning when you look at the verse in context. While these two verses are pretty timely and significant on their own, it takes on a much deeper meaning when you read them in context.

This passage is in the middle of a much larger passage that talks about the failings of nations. Amos reveals God's judgment against Philistia, Tyre, Edom, and Moab. That's not where it stops, though--His judgment for Judah and Israel follow closely behind.

Amos 4 ends with these verses:

"So this is what I am going to do to you, Israel.
        Because of what I am planning, prepare to meet your God, Israel!
Witness the One who shapes the mountains and fashions the wind,

    who reveals His thoughts to human beings,
Who changes dawn to darkness
    and treads upon the high places of the earth.
The Eternal God, Commander of heavenly armies, is His name."

 And what were Israel's crimes? Their leaders were silencing anyone who dared speak the truth. They were getting rich on the backs of the poor, from taxes imposed on them. God said He saw the depths of their sins, how they had turned away from what was right and gone so far as to persecute those who did right. They took bribes and abused the poor. That list of sins is what comes directly before verses 14 & 15, where God's people are commanded to hate evil and love good, to live justly.

What follows, though, is the consequence if His people refused to repent and run back to Him: 

"Get ready to hear wailing from every street,
    people crying out in pain and sorrow along every highway.
The farmers will be pulled away from their fields to mourn,
    and those who are trained to grieve will wail with them.
In every vineyard, there will be mourning
    because I will pass through the middle of you."

As an individual, I know that I am saved from God's wrath and judgment. It's not because I'm some amazing person who never messes up--it's simply due to the fact that I know just how utterly useless my own attempts to be "good enough" are and have accepted the amazing gift of God sacrificing His Son as a replacement for my punishment.

As a nation, though, I truly believe that we have finally pushed too far and that we are about to see what happens when God gives us what we've been demanding for so long--a society without Him. We're about to see what happens when God removes His hand of protection and instead turns us over to experience justice and righteousness.

"How horrible for you who look forward to the day of the Eternal One!
    Why do you want it to come?
For you, its arrival will mean darkness, not light.
It will be as if you were to escape from a lion

    only to run headlong into a bear,
As if you ran into a house to hide, leaned against the wall to rest,
    and a poisonous snake latched onto your hand.
Will not the day of the Eternal One be darkness instead of light,

    pitch black, without even a hint of brightness?
Eternal One:
I hate—I totally reject—your religious ceremonies

        and have nothing to do with your solemn gatherings.
You can offer Me whole burnt offerings and grain offerings,

        but I will not accept them.
You can sacrifice your finest, fattest young animals as a peace offering,

        but I will not even look up.
And stop making that music for Me—it’s just noise.

        I will not listen to the melodies you play on the harp.
Here’s what I want: Let justice thunder down like a waterfall;

        let righteousness flow like a mighty river that never runs dry."
Amos 5:18-24

The justice and righteousness of God are not things to be taken lightly. I'm afraid that we've been demanding them for so long, though, that God is about to give our nation exactly what we've been asking for.

All I can say is that I am thankful God's promises are eternal.
In the midst of the chaos and the confusion, He promises His presence.


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